5 Back to School Tips for High Schoolers

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With the break over and the start of a new semester just around the corner it may be daunting to return back to school. But it doesn’t have to be. In this post, I will be going over 5 tips that can help jumpstart your semester.

1. Print out/Screenshot your class schedule

A new semester means new classes at different times and locations. This also means plenty of opportunity to get lost in the shuffle as you try to make it to class.

To ease the struggle of remembering which class is where and what time, screenshot your class schedule and print it out to be put in each of your class folders, notebooks, or binders.

Printing out your schedule will make it easier for you to quickly glance at your notebook near the end of a class period. This is especially true if your school prevents you from having your phone on you during class time.

Having a screenshot of your schedule will make it quicker for you to get to your next class after coming from lunch or any other place where needing to pull out your phone would be faster than going into your bag to grab a notebook.

If you need help getting your schedule you can ask your case manager or parent/caregiver to assist you with retrieving and printing copies of your schedule.

2. Color code your classes

With all the new classes you have for this semester, it’s easy to lose track of where your class notes are, especially among all the other notebooks you may have. To make it easier for you to remember which notebook goes with what class, you could color code each notebook, binder, or folder based on the class. For example, red could be the color for science and blue for English class.

If your school uses Google Drive, you can create folders with custom colors to help you sort through each class, especially as assignments and notes pile up throughout the semester. Here is a link to a tutorial on how to do so.

Examples of a color coding scheme could be:

  • Red = Science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics)
  • Blue = English or another Language Arts class
  • Green = Math
  • Yellow = Social Studies/History
  • Purple = Art or Music

3. Create a “To-Do” list

To-do lists are essential to staying on top of your academics. While you may have Canvas to help remind you of any upcoming due dates, they may not always be accurate due to a teacher not labeling assignments correctly.

You could either hand write them in a weekly planner or my preferred method is to open up an email draft, writing Monday’s date as a header (ex. Week of 01/15/24), then listing each day of the week (see example below for a visual).

Examples of things you could write down include:

  • Upcoming tests/quizzes
  • Assignments due that week
  • Class projects you want to stay on top of (ex. Writing “finish rough draft of English essay” for Thursday)
  • Club meetings, sports meets, or concerts

Maintaining a “To-Do” list is a great skill to start developing now as college and work post-high school becomes less structured. Without one, it can be easy to forget to pay a bill like rent or car insurance. Or miss an important appointment like a doctor’s appointment or job interview. Or even a date or friend’s gathering you’ve been looking forward to.

4. Read your syllabus and update your calendar!

I’m sure you’ve heard this many times before, but it really is important to go over your syllabus as it contains a bunch of information on what will be covered in a class. That said, navigating a syllabus can be very difficult and confusing.

Here are things you should look for when reading through one:

  • Dates of tests/quizzes
  • Due dates for long-term projects
  • The first two weeks of what assignments may be due
  • Late work policy
  • Attendance policy (while high school classes may have similar policies, college course policies may vary so it’s good to get into the habit of at least acknowledging them now)

Once noted, you can then write these down in your preferred calendar app or planner.

If you need assistance reading through a syllabus, ask your class teacher or case manager/SPED teacher to help you out.

This meeting can also act as a way to ensure you have the accommodations needed for you to succeed in class.

5. Ensure your accommodations are set

Speaking of accommodations, it is your right as a student to receive the accommodations outlined in your 504 plan/IEP. Your school is legally obligated to provide the accommodations stated within your 504 plan/IEP.  If you don’t know what accommodations you do have, ask your case manager, who may also double as your SPED teacher.

Examples of accommodations include: alternative seating (such as ensuring you sit in the back or front of class depending on visual, auditory, or other sensory needs), modified assignments (typically only for students with IEPs), extended time on tests/assignments, oral presentations to demonstrate knowledge versus written/typed answers (and vice versa), teacher’s notes, graphic organizers, scribe, and/or 1:1 teaching aide.

Assistive technology is also included in your accommodations. Examples of these include: Kami, Read & Write, Bookshare, Text-to-Speech (a.k.a. narrator), Speech-to-Text (a.k.a. dictation), audiobooks, etc.

If you don’t already know how to, look at our “Resources” section of this post for tutorials on how to set-up Speech-to-Text and Text-to-Speech for Windows, Mac, and Chromebook devices.

Setting these up at the beginning of each semester saves you stress and anxiety later in the semester. If you do run into trouble getting these accommodations, ask a trusted adult to help you advocate for them. These adults could include favorite teacher, case manager, SPED teacher, school-based occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech therapist, or your parent(s)/caregiver(s).

Getting into the habit of setting these up at the beginning of the semester will also help you later down the line whether that is in college or in the workforce. This is because in both settings, you are responsible for initially asking for any accommodations!

Conclusion

From being a freshman in their first year of high school to a senior about to graduate, preparing for another semester early on can significantly help you have a great semester. Plus, by doing so, it allows you time and mental energy to catch up with friends that you haven’t seen since before a break!

Resources

Author Nathan Baniqued, CEO and Founder of OTernative Perspectives

About the Author

Nathan Baniqued (he/him)

Nathaniel (Nathan) Baniqued OTD, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist who received his doctoral degree in Occupational Therapy from Washington University in St. Louis, MO in 2023. Originally from O’ahu, HI, Nathan has had 7+ years of experience working with individuals with disabilities in various jobs and settings such as public education, supported employment, and outpatient clinics. The spark that began his desire to work with people with disabilities was after a medical event at 11 years-old when he was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease Stage 3A.

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